Managing an ageing workforce in the NHS

The UK workforce is ageing – it’s a fact.

Our population is the biggest it’s ever been. In 2016, 65.6 million people lived in the UK, of which 18% were aged 65 or over. This is something to celebrate! The NHS, for all its tough times, has improved the overall health of the country, so that we’re healthier, fitter, and live longer.

But this also means we work longer. And even though the NHS has been an incredible success over the years, its ageing workforce poses a big challenge – especially in the current climate. Here are some of the tests facing the NHS as its workforce gets older:

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS

Different generations expect different things from their employers. Where older staff are more used to strict working hours and working unsupervised, younger workers expect more support from their supervisors, as well as comprehensive training. This means you’ll need to cater to everyone’s expectations and offer the same opportunities across the board.

MANAGING THE SHIFT ROTA

This one’s for that person who decides who works the Friday night shift. As more employers offer flexible working hours outside the NHS, younger staff are keen to embrace this way of working. The flip side? Older members of staff want to spend more time with their families, so they’re beginning to want more flexible hours, too. But the growth in population means there’s an increase in demand on NHS services. This makes assigning shifts a tricky business, as patient care must be weighed up against staff requirements.

MANAGING PATIENT CARE

One of the great things about the ageing workforce is that there’s a lot more experience on the ward. That means not only high-quality patient care, but also more support for younger, less experienced staff. To be sustainable, though, this cycle relies on both younger and older staff feeling motivated to learn and work together, which, under current conditions in the NHS, can be a challenge. Plus, as the workforce ages, it’s possible that NHS staff themselves will experience illnesses that mean they need additional support to continue to deliver good patient care.

MANAGING RETIREMENT

The NHS is becoming much more flexible when it comes to retirement. Many older staff members use the NHS’s retire and return scheme, which allows them to phase into retirement, rather than stopping work altogether. This means they can take advantage of their pension while continuing to offer their expertise and experience on the ward. However, as people reduce their responsibilities or work fewer hours, large gaps in skills and responsibilities are created, which trusts then need to fill.

Training is a major way to help your trust overcome these issues. It can fill skills gaps, motivate staff, promote teamwork, and help you recruit – and keep – a sustainable workforce. See how to attract trainees to your trust – and get some top tips for training your existing staff – in our guide.

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